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I went out to dinner tonight, which I don't usually do on Fridays because it is busy, and it was busy, so I sat at the bar. I usually read at dinner, but the bar was not well lit. There was no one to my left, fortunately (that's my deaf ear). To my right was a child and her mother. When my food came the woman asked what I had ordered, since it smelled so good. We talked about food, theirs and mine. She said she was just telling her daughter how important presentation was; the daughter had turned in a report that was just a mess! I asked the child what grade she was in and agreed that in fourth grade, teachers' expectations really level up.

The child asked the waiter whether he liked crystals, and showed him a crystal she found on the playground. I asked if I could see it too. From that point on the three of us were chatting. I had told the waiter that my son had left for college, since that is what I say these days when people ask how I am, so the woman asked where, and we talked about where we had lived and what we liked about their climates. We talked about math, and educational philosophy, and what we were reading. And when I left, the woman asked me my name, gave me hers, and her phone number, and urged me to call if I was bored or wanted to get a coffee. She said she was really interested in talking to me again.

I can do being charming for a short time -- obviously, since I just did it -- but it is exhausting. I enjoy this kind of conversation while I'm having it, but afterwards, I never want to talk to anyone again. And I certainly can't call her: I feel like such a faker. Not that I said anything that isn't true, but-- that was as much as I usually talk in a week. I am too embarrassed to tell you how high my blood pressure was.

Do you ever feel like this? How do you cope?
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I've been working on the slowest traineeship in the history of the Raptor Center. Yesterday I got mail from the Volunteer Coordinator:
Hi Susan,

I am checking in to see how things are going with you. I notice that you have been working on a shift about every other week. Are you able to do a shift weekly? This is the best way to learn. Also, please attend the rounds meeting on Tuesday evenings.


How are you progressing through your training? Are you getting the sign offs and the experience you need? Please let me know if their is anything I can do to help you along.


Looking forward to hearing from you.

I can tell that she means this to be encouraging, but it just makes me want to say no, sorry, I can't go any faster, good bye and good luck.

I have a long and varied history of volunteer work. Naturally, I also have opinions. Mostly on the subject of how to make good use of the stone the builder has discarded, or at least how to make good use of this particular stone the builder has discarded. I don't disagree with her that committing to once a week is the best way to learn. I'm just saying that I can't do that.

I did tell her that I was a very anxious person, in the initial interview when she asked what my weaknesses were. She asked how my anxiety expresses itself and I said, "For one thing, I'm unemployed." I don't know whether I want to try to explain that this is what I meant. I am anxious. I deal with it as best I can. Sometimes that is not very well. If I could deal with it better, I would have a job and a lover and probably no time for the Raptor Center.

Some people who don't experience anxiety take my anxiety as an insult. If that's the way the conversation goes, I will definitely wish I had skipped it. Other people seem to think that my anxiety is a problem for them to solve, by asking me what erroneous beliefs are causing the anxiety, and then explaining to me that the erroneous beliefs are erroneous. Ta-da! I'd rather not ever have that conversation again either.

I am open to advice.
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I eat out alone a lot. I like it. I bring a book.

I'm a creature of habit. I like going to the same restaurant every week. I also like the fact that waiters remember whether you are a good tipper, even if you are a fat middle-aged odd shabby woman eating alone, with dirt under her fingernails and a book.

Pretending that a professional interaction is a personal one is always going to make me uncomfortable. It's hard enough making eye contact and small talk with my friends, when I really like them and I trust that they really like me. I understand that service workers pretend to like customers because they (or their managers) believe customers like it. I cope with it as well as I can.

This musing brought to you by a new waiter at my favorite restaurant, who addressed me as "my dove". Immediately after a conversation with the people at the next table in which he disclosed that he did not know who Warren Zevon was. If you do not know who Warren Zevon was then you are too young to even pretend to flirt with me. I do not expect you to know this rule, child, since I just made it up, but if you are going to flirt professionally then I do expect you to know that if a woman suddenly stops making eye contact or even looking in your general direction after you address her as "my dove", that is not your cue to ramp up the flirting and the leaning and the hip-shot lingering and the amount of emotion you put into urging her to enjooooy her dinner.
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SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): In a *Rolling Stone* interview, musician John
Mayer suggested that Tiger Woods could have avoided his terrible
troubles if he had just chosen to masturbate more. Rather than literally
acting out his obsessive sexual urges with a jillion women who weren't his
wife, why not contain them in the fantasy realm? I suggest you consider
applying this principle as you make your decisions in the coming weeks,
Scorpio -- not just in regards to your sexual life, but in other areas as well.
There may be times when you could prevent an influx of unnecessary
chaos simply by conducting a conversation in your imagination rather
than by having it with the actual person who seems to be agitating or
enthralling you.


See, almost all of my interaction with other people is already confined only to my own imagination. Except for sex: there, you can drop the "almost".

Last time I saw my husband it occurred to me that our sex life has been missing for seven years. I thought about pointing that out to him, suggesting that we have it declared dead; but then I was afraid that he would say-- he wouldn't literally say, "well, duh," but I was afraid that he would say something emotionally equivalent to "well, duh," which would enrage me, because every time I asked him about our missing sex life, every single time over the past seven years, he insisted it was pining for the fjords.

So, we didn't have that conversation.

That's my life, mostly: not having that conversation.


At Wiscon, though, I was shockingly non-self-effacing. You know what I did? Well, lots of things, of course, but the one that most purely self-satisfies me was at a Monday 10 a.m. panel where the panelists kept leaving their hands in front of their mouths while they talked. I had to think about this for a long time before I did it, but once I decided, I stuck my hand all the way up in the air and left it there. I think maybe my visible discomfort made the moderator uncomfortable also, because he sighed and looked at everyone else in the room before he called on me. But then he did call on me, and I did say, "Could I ask you all to please take your hands away from your mouths while you are talking," in a voice that was unfortunately pretty goddam shaky from feeling conspicuous plus correcting other people.


I know I don't have good judgment on the question, to speak or not to speak? I haven't had enough practice to be very good at it yet. But I would like to be more like me-at-Wiscon.
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Okay, first I have to tell you this story because it so perfectly epitomizes why I continually fail at making friends.

I was just at the library. There was a guy sitting just outside with two dogs, shepherd mixes, presumably waiting for a companion inside. Dogs and person looked approachable, so I approached, asking, "Can I say hi to your dogs?"

He said sure. While I was petting one dog, the other stuck his head inside my bookbag (which held chocolate and a bag of parmesan cheese, as well as books). The guy said, "That's the first Stone Lion bag I've seen in years, other than ours." (Fort Collins used to have a really good bookstore, called the Stone Lion, but it went out of business years ago.) I agreed that it was very old.

Then I said, "I think I've seen you walking these guys, across the street from my house?" And I told him where I lived. Which I suppose was a weird thing to say but: two GSD mixes, on pinch collars, one of them maybe GSD/Airedale but definitely some kind of terrier head on that shepherd body; they're recognizable. He agreed that they often walked their dogs there, I mentioned that I had three GSD mixes of my own, and we talked briefly but intensely about dogs, collars, clickers, under what circumstances one felt safe letting them off-lead, the differing difficulties of having young dogs or old ones. He asked, "Yours are all German Shepard mixes?" and I said "Yeah, uh, the young one is actually a German Shepherd/German Shepherd mix, in fact, a white German Shepherd. You've probably seen him at the front window, barking at every dog who walks by."

Then I said it was nice to meet him and told him my name, and he told me his (Paul). So, this is great, right? These people love dogs, and love books, and like to walk, and there's a lot of potential for friend-making there. Except. I wouldn't recognize him without the dogs.

Fear makes you stupid, you know? Or I mean it takes up enough of your processors that there's not much left over for learning. I'm so much less shy than I used to be, but still, face-to-face conversation with a stranger means a large portion of my brain will be occupied by FEAR and another large portion by TOLERATING THE FEAR and most of the rest will be busy with "Make eye contact. Maintain eye contact for normal-seeming amount of time. Do not stare. Do not start wondering which eye you should be looking at. Do not switch from eye to eye. Do not give up and make fake eye contact with some other part of their face. Coordinate eye contact with conversational turns. Is it your turn to talk? Do not leave too much of a gap. Do not blurt out something idiotic." And there's not much left over for, you know, seeing the person you're talking to. White male. My generation. Not fat or thin. I think he had a beard. And glasses. That's all I got.
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[In which I am talking to my husband about my reaction to the latest communication from the housepainter.]

Me: "Fine! Here's your money! And keep an eye out for my essay, 'How to turn a disappointed customer into a customer who is VIBRATING WITH RAGE, in five easy emails, each with its own special fauxpology!'"

Hugh: Is that what you wrote back?

Me: ...No. I'm not going to waste a line like that on him. He wouldn't enjoy it.


I should write that essay for you, dear readers, because you would enjoy it, but it'll have to wait until I can look back on it and laugh, because with me, VIBRATING WITH RAGE is more like vomiting with rage, and I would prefer not to.


Earlier, I told Hugh, "The human communication thing. I suck at it. I should stop."
He said, "You can't stop. Well, there's one way you could stop."
I said, "OKAY FINE. I should MINIMIZE my exposure to it."

Not seriously. Except for the fact that I suck at it.


Hugh reads my public LJ posts, and sometimes reads the comments. He is impressed by my kind and helpful friendslist. When I write about a problem and get reams of kind and helpful advice, he is incredulous. "Why don't you respond to them?" he asks. I say, "...."

It's the communication thing. I have some deficiencies there. After I write, I am spent. There is a significant refractory period before I can compose anything new.

Terrible metaphor.


Are you offended, disappointed, or hurt when I don't respond to your comments? Would it help at all if I said something perfunctory like 'Thank you'? Can you suggest anything that would help?


I do appreciate you. I do wish to become better at expressing it.

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